Chaput For Three

Chaput the Great just delivered himself of three addresses at a Religion in the Public Square conference in Victoria, BC.
The middle of the triptych is on the renewal of Catechesis, but begins rather chillingly with a teacher's description of how her kids responded to Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" 20 years ago versus now. I recall reading it freshman year of high school, and the outrage of my fellow students at the ending. My own take-away at the tender age of 14 was the obvious moral bankruptcy of Catholicism. What the hell were these nuns feeding us kids intellectually --because it seemed obvious to me we were being taught to accept the shocking ending. Apparently things have disintegrated from there. You can read Chaput's texts for further spoilers if you need them, otherwise proceed:

Haugaard described one classroom discussion that -- to me -- was more disturbing than the story itself. The students had nothing to say except that the story bored them. So Haugaard asked them what they thought about the villagers ritually sacrificing one of their own for the sake of the harvest.
One student, speaking in quite rational tones, argued that many cultures have traditions of human sacrifice. Another said that the stoning might have been part of “a religion of long standing,” and therefore acceptable and understandable.
An older student who worked as a nurse, also weighed in. She said that her hospital had made her take training in multicultural sensitivity. The lesson she learned was this: “If it’s a part of a person’s culture, we are taught not to judge.”
I thought of Haugaard’s experience with “The Lottery” as I got ready for this brief talk. Here’s where my thinking led me:
Our culture is doing catechesis every day. It works like water dripping on a stone, eroding people’s moral and religious sensibilities, and leaving a hole where their convictions used to be.
Haugaard’s experience teaches us that it took less than a generation for this catechesis to produce a group of young adults who were unable to take a moral stand against the ritual murder of a young woman.  Not because they were cowards.  But because they lost their moral vocabulary.
He's right, and I love what follows about the new barbarism and how it can only be met by people who actually believe what they profess.

I would only add that I suspect the relativism he describes is more shallow than it appears. When I was teaching high school (early 90s at what had been at one time a prestigious Catholic girls' school in the city), on the first day of school I asked the kids whether there was such a thing as truth or if everything we believed about right and wrong was derived from culture and upbringing. To a gal, with the exception of one Greek Orthodox girl in the Sophomore class, they all agreed that we couldn't know right or wrong.

I pressed them pretty hard on this. This was at the height of boycotts of South Africa, and I asked the girls if that meant that we had no argument to make against Apartheid. Was Martin Luther King, Jr. just opining -- not necessarily right?

Their response to that was painful, because there's nothing a teenager hates as much as injustice, and you could see the gears in their heads turning, every fiber of their being straining against bigotry, but they had no way to articulate an argument against it, and in the end my black students just hung their heads, defeated. I almost wept to see it.

But I didn't let up. "So...was what Hitler did wrong?" I asked them.

Silence. And then, hesitantly, in every single class, someone reluctantly raised her hand to say, "...but he really believed it."

"Not what I asked," I replied,  "I didn't ask you about his sincerity. I asked if he was right."

"But we can't judge," they said.

"I'm not asking you to tell me if he's in hell," said I. "I'm asking you if he was right or wrong."


"Would it be right for me to come in with a service revolver and pop off the students in the front row?"


That opening class ticked a lot of them off, quite frankly. Got a lot of journal entries from my Seniors that week with poetic entries such as, "Ballad for My Red Sky," stickin' it to the Ma'am (me) for daring to suggest that truth was the right object of search even in Religion class (where they'd been making "Me" booklets and collages previously).

But there were no relativists in any of my classes by the end of the semester. There were serious Christians and some dogged atheists, and some gals who weren't sure what to think but were grateful to have their questions taken seriously. But the relativism didn't go that deep, it had just never been challenged....which Chaput sort of hints at, when he says half the barbarism is caused by the indifference of the faithful.

He opened with: The First Freedom: Religious Liberty as the Foundation of Human Liberty; and closed with: Life in the Late Republic: The Catholic Role in America After Virtue.